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January Term: UVA Engineering in Panama
Panama City, Panama
Program Terms: January
This program is currently not accepting applications.
Budget Sheets January
Dates / Deadlines:
There are currently no active application cycles for this program.
Fact Sheet:
Click here for a definition of this term Class Status: 2nd year, 3rd year, 4th year Minimum GPA Requirement: 2.5
Click here for a definition of this term Language Requirement: none Click here for a definition of this term Open to Non-UVa Students: No
Housing: Hotel Language of Instruction: English
Click here for a definition of this term Credit Type: Direct Credit Click here for a definition of this term Program Type: Faculty led
Click here for a definition of this term Tuition Payments Made To: UVA Click here for a definition of this term Education Abroad Advisor: Christine Parcells
Click here for a definition of this term Application Fee: Yes Click here for a definition of this term Study Abroad Administrative Fee: No
Click here for a definition of this term Subject Area: Engineering
Program Description:

This course will focus on teaching students to be sociotechnical analysts, using the Panama Canal Expansion project as a case study. Sociotechnical analysts are capable of understanding complex networks of people, policies, systems and structures, focusing especially on the interface between people and the natural/engineered world. Engineering innovation, huge-scale project management, and massive infrastructure construction and management will be considered in the context of Panama - a modern, business-oriented culture blessed with abundant natural resources, yet surrounded by (and in many ways part of) the emerging world.


Container Ship in Gatun Lock

Course Objectives
The Panama Canal and its Expansion Project represents an extraordinary opportunity to study large-scale infrastructure development from both engineering and non-technical perspectives. Funding of the project under strict adherence to the Equator Principles, especially their mandate for transparency, makes the Expansion Project the primary sociotechnical system available today for large-scale teaching and learning about the complex constraints and trade-offs associated such systems.

After completing the program students shall:

  • Describe the historical context for the construction of the canal, from the Spanish to the French to the Americans, and comparatively assess the reasons behind the French failure and the American success in building the canal.
  • Construct an argument about American imperialism in Panama in the period 1904-1999, and describe the outcomes (both positive and negative) of the American occupation of Panama.
  • Synthesize historical perspectives and current operational realities of the Canal into an understanding of the necessity for an expanded canal, its impact on global trade, and its susceptibility to competing transit routes.

The location of the program is in and around Panama City in the Republic of Panama. Over the course of 10 days, students will gain first-hand insight into the Panama Canal, the Canal Expansion Project, and the long and rich history of Panama as an independent republic. We will explore Panama's imperial past, from Spanish and Colombian rule, the influence of the French canal builders, to the 20th century influence of the United States through architecture, food, historical sites, and a wide range of other experiences. The human-made canal and its expansion raise critical questions about environmental impact, globalization and global commerce, ethics, and public policy; the answers to these questions require an understanding of the local context in Panama.


Ship Exiting Gatun lock

Students will be staying in double occupancy at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located close to the Panama Canal, shops, and restaurants. Breakfast and internet are included.


Panama Canal Case Study
(STS 2500/GDS 2559; 3 credits)

Course Information
This program is open to students outside of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Engineering students must take STS 2500. Other accepted students will take GDS 2559.

Students taking STS 2500 must have completed STS 1500 or have instructor permission to take this course.

2014 January: STS 2500/GDS 2559 Syllabus


Construction of Lock on New Canal

Study Abroad Policies
Education Abroad Workshop
Students must view and complete the online Education Abroad Workshop prior to starting the UVA Study Abroad application. Please refer to the Education Abroad Workshop homepage for more information.

Passport and Visa Information
All participants will need a valid passport in order to participate in the program. Students must ensure that their passport is valid at least six months past the program return date. US passport holders will not need a visa to participate in this program. International students should meet with their International Student Advisor and Education Abroad Advisor in the International Studies Office as part of the application process.

Refund Policy
Withdrawal and Refund Policy

Please note
No refund or credit will be given to students who are suspended and/or dismissed from any UVA study abroad programs for conduct and/or academic violations reasons.

The program cost and payment schedule are listed under the "Budget Sheets" link at the top of this page. In addition to these, students are responsible for the following expenses:

  • International Airfare
  • Most non-breakfast meals
  • Some local transportation costs
  • Personal expenses


Cutting Canal Through Mountain

Program Director Edward Berger, is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Prof. Berger has worked with colleagues for about three years to develop relationships at the Panama Canal and create this course. He has traveled to Panama many times, including twice on Semester at Sea voyages on which he taught a version of this course (Maymester 2011 and 2012). His network of contacts and relationships in Panama has helped him develop an in-depth understanding of the Canal, its place in Panamanian culture, and the historical context which facilitates the Canal's construction.

The program will also be accompanied by a graduate student teaching assistant.

This program is currently not accepting applications.